Google has about 95,800,000 search results for “wedding planning,” but if you replace the word “wedding” with the word “marriage,” the number drops by half and the top hits are still all about party details and dresses. Which is great… if the most important part of your marriage is the very first day of it.
I mean, yes, the wedding is all very overwhelming and the details matter and you’d like to have lovely memories of the Party That Kicked it All Off. But as I’m preparing for my own impending nuptials (Summer 2012, Waffle Lovers!), the whole wedding planning fervor has started to wear on my nerves (and not just because I honestly and truly have no opinion about chair sashes). It rings hollow that we’re pouring all of our time and effort into getting ready for what amounts to a giant party, while we’re aware that at least on a philosophical level that party is merely a symbol commencing an entirely new phase of our lives together. Where’s the planning guide for that?
Given that we’ve lived together for a year already, and will have been shacking up for almost two by the time we get around to making it “official,” there are a lot of things some couples have to prepare for that we’re just already adjusting to: personal levels of cleanliness, divvying of household responsibilities and financial burdens, sleeping habits, eating habits, lounging habits. He had to get used to the fact that I like to jam out to the music I listened to when I was 13 while I clean the house (Alanis, the Spice Girls, Ace of Base) and I had to get used to the fact that he sheds body hair at least as much as our dog does. It’s not gross, per se, any more than I have bad taste in music, per se. It’s just the kind of personal, awkward details that stay at home; but home is shared, now.
Still, we’re kind of used to all of that stuff about each other now, and in some ways we’ve been reassured by friends who did the same that nothing will change when we get married. I think on one, practical level, that’s true. But on another level there are some very important considerations that may or may not be obvious that we’re glad we’ve been warned about ahead of time. It’s helped me to be able to wrap my head around this big marriage beast ahead of time, and I think it will serve us well when we’re living it, too. These are tips I think apply to any couple who’s planning a long-term commitment.
- It doesn’t have to be a prenup, but have an honest talk about finances, how you handle them, and what kind of access each of you will have to the other’s money ahead of time. Everyone kind of tends to take things like this for granted, because you assume that your well-thought-out approach to money is the rational, baseline one, and then you find out your partner sees it the opposite way, but not until he accidentally over-drafted your joint checking account, or until you blithely laugh when he mentions joint checking and he gets a dismayed look on his face. There are pros and cons to a number of numerations of finance agreements between partners, but the big things to keep in mind are these: what feels best to you, what are healthy compromises, what will keep you both financially safe in the years to come, and what will allow you some flexibility and elbow room both with each other and with your money.
- Try to get on the same page about big life plans, including having/not having children, geographical location(s) for making your life together, and career bumps, bruises, reincarnations, and about-faces. The truth is you have no idea what you’ll be doing for a living 5 years from now, much less 30. You should try to understand that about one another and be prepared for any foreseeable potential career paths your partner could move along. (For instance, my fiance currently works full time as a designer for a tech company, but at some point that company will sell, and he will have a cushion of funds–we hope–and then freelance or start his own business or work for another company. Each of these possibilities comes with attendant geographical relocations, financial risks, and general implications for our sense of stability and permanence.) It seems obvious, too, to have some consensus about children before you get married, but it’s surprising how many people tie the knot without giving it a second though, assuming that their partner is in agreement with their unspoken wishes. It can be a nasty shock to want no children and find your husband wants four, or vice versa, and while there are certainly options that allow people to compromise, it’s best for everyone if you know what you’re getting into.
- Sit down and have an honest discussion about what you envision “marriage” being like. Chances are, you’re going to try to live some version of that ideal, and you might be surprised by what ideas you hold about marriage without examining them. Getting those ideas out in the open ahead of time allows you to be mindful of the way you craft your marriage, lets you tackle ideas you have about marriage that you might not actually like, and gives you the opportunity to have some fun while intentionally creating the picture of a marriage that works for both of you, together. For instance, I found, when I thought about it, that my idea of marriage included some really traditional roles that I wasn’t totally comfortable with, like husband as breadwinner, wife as caretaker. I don’t want to be dependent on my spouse for the majority of my home income (what if something happens to him?), and while I do care for him and want his wellness, I also: A) cannot be his mother, and B) think I deserve the same kind of care in return that I dish out. Being able to say these things out loud gave us the opportunity to make promises we could hold each other to, like, “I promise to take care of you when you’re sick as long as you promise to do the same,” or “I promise to find a way to plan for my own individual financial future so that I am not dependent on you like a child.” These kinds of promises might sound a bit cold fish, but they don’t feel that way. This feels, in all honesty, like the most tender portion of our relationship. And it is. Because it’s the portion we crafted specifically for us.
- Finally, it’s morbid perhaps, but, talk about death. My dude hates it when I bring it up, but I need to know. I mean it when I say that I want to be with him until one of us dies. And that means someday one of us is going to have to deal with the other’s death. I want to know, now, what he would like if he dies suddenly: what kind of funeral, what kind of arrangements he wants made, what he hopes will become of his worldly goods. Someday we’ll put all this into writing, but for now, it just comforts me to know. I’d so rather have these talks now, when we both have our health and our youth and our relative distance from having to face these issues, than when one of us is gone and we just don’t know the answers, or when one of us is ill and these questions are all too real.
I guess, in the end, marriage planning isn’t about knowing things in advance or being able to plan anything with certainty, so much as it is accepting the idea that you can’t be certain of much, in life, love, or otherwise, and finding a level of peace and preparedness inside that uncertainty is the best you can do for yourself. And maybe, once you and I get to that place, we can get back to coordinating our thank you cards with our save-the-dates.